Tip #501: In Praise of Piloting Training Programs
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance- it is the illusion of knowledge.” Daniel J. Boorstin
I rarely get an opportunity to pilot training that I have designed. My clients generally only want a program given once or maybe twice, without any trial run.
The only way to get pre-training feedback is either to send a detailed lesson plan to the client for review and comment (when I have expertise in the content)- or to send it to a subject matter expert for review and comment (when I have relied on that individual for the content).
However, these options fall far short in determining how relevant and effective the content, format and learning activities will be.
This point was driven home to me by my recent experience designing business management training. Although I am in business, I am definitely not schooled in all matters of business management. For example, I have little experience in budgeting, funding, marketing, inventory control, or facility management.
One program involved 8 days of training for medical training institutions in Zambia, requiring additional content related to academic quality management. The other program involved 22 days of training for small private medical practices in Kenya, requiring additional content related to clinical practice, medical equipment, medical supplies and medications.
Since I am neither an academic manager nor a medical practitioner, I needed to work with subject matter experts to identify the necessary content, examples and resources. I worked with two individuals to design the training for medical training institutions.
The first was an experienced academic administrator and the second was Zambian consultant who conducted an extensive needs assessment interview process with the owners, directors and selected staff of the actual training institutions. A medical professional with extensive experience with medical clinics in Africa provided wonderful content for the training for the private medical practices.
We then tested both programs in on-site pilot sessions. In Zambia, the participants consisted of the owners, directors and staff of medical training institutions. Although we treated this program as a pilot, these participants were actually our target audience.
Happily, the consensus of the participants was that most of the content was relevant and useful.
However, the pilot demonstrated that we had overestimated the participants’ knowledge in most of the content areas. I had to provide additional explanatory content, take longer with some activities than I had anticipated, and revise certain learning activities to help the participants learn and apply their new skills.
The pilot also revealed that there were critical skill development needs that had not been identified during the extensive needs assessment- nor could we have anticipated them.
For example, in the section on facility management, our content focused on the need for standards and schedules for cleaning and preventive equipment maintenance. What we did not anticipate was the fact that the participants needed to learn how to motivate their cleaning staff to meet those standards.
The participants also needed to learn how to convince the owners of their medical training institutions to approve expenditures for the cleaning supplies that were necessary to ensure a clean and sterile environment and for the preventive maintenance of essential equipment.
When I returned to the States, I made all of these revisions so that another facilitator could give the program in a different part of Zambia. It was gratifying to learn that the program went smoothly and that a comparison of the pre- and post-test results indicated that real learning had occurred. Without the pilot experience and findings, it is unlikely that the program would have been as successful.
In Kenya, the participants included a few owners of small private medical practices, who were our target audience. The rest of the participants were medical practitioners/trainers in hospitals or trainers for the AIDS network, so this really was a pilot. We only piloted 10 of the 22 days, since the content of the other days had already been partially tested in Zambia and/or in Nigeria.
The pilot participants validated all of the existing content. However, they also revealed the need for additional content and examples, additional time for activities and discussion, and more application exercises. Their insight and suggestions will definitely enhance the training and increase the probability that the training will achieve its desired intent.
No training program is ever perfect.
No matter what we do as curriculum developers, we cannot anticipate and meet all training needs. This is true, even if we have the expertise of the most experienced subject matter experts to assist us.
However, if and when we have an opportunity to pilot a program so that we can identify and address any gaps or flaws in the content, format or learning activities, it is a real gift.
May your learning be sweet.